The following information is compiled from my research at the National Drug Court Conference in Washington, D.C.
Recreational marijuana is an intoxicating and addictive drug that poses serious medical risks similar to those in nicotine and alcohol. No national, regional, medical or scientific organization recognizes marijuana as medicine in its raw or smoked form. By the early 1990s, the scientific community concluded from rigorous laboratory and epidemiological studies that marijuana is both physiologically and psychologically addictive. A person could get addicted to recreational marijuana if they smoke it regularly two times each week.
Recreational marijuana is a gateway drug to more destructive illegal drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Last year, there were approximately 60,000 opioid deaths in the U.S.
Medical harm is caused by the carcinogens; smoked and recreational marijuana has the potential to be as or more harmful than cigarettes. The National Institutes of Health estimates that a person who smokes five recreational marijuana cigarettes weekly is likely to be inhaling as many cancer-causing chemicals as one who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day. There are no filters on recreational marijuana cigarettes, and the user holds the smoke in to get a high.
Cannabis use increases the risk of heart attack fourfold during the first hours after smoking recreational marijuana, increases the heart rate, alters blood pressure, can induce a rapid or irregular heart beat, increases heart stress, decreases oxygen levels in the circulatory system and exacerbates angina.
Regular recreational marijuana use is associated with a wide array of chronic respiratory ailments, including chronic bronchitis, asthma, coughing, wheezing, abnormal chest sounds and increased phlegm. Asthmatics could suffer a fatal asthmatic attack from recreational marijuana use.
Recreational marijuana has undisputed negative effects on cognitive functioning, including memory, learning and motor coordination. These negative effects persist, averaging 30 days of residual cognitive impairment. Adolescents’ brains are still developing, and recreational marijuana use adversely affects their brain development. Recreational marijuana use could lower a person’s IQ by up to 10 points.
Two recent advanced statistical procedures concluded that recreational marijuana use during adolescence or young adulthood significantly predicts later involvement in criminal activity and criminal arrest. The risk of criminal involvement was determined to by 1.5 to 3 times greater for cannabis users than nonusers.
In my court, some juveniles confessed that they burglarize homes or rob their victims in order to pay for recreational marijuana. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, there are more arrests for driving under the influence of recreational marijuana than DWI by alcohol.
In these difficult economic times, the cost of recreational marijuana can total thousands of dollars and contributes to unnecessary financial difficulties for families. Recreational marijuana users are more likely to drop out of high school and get divorced.
The incarceration rate for people convicted of possessing recreational marijuana in the past few years has been significantly reduced. Authorities are working with diversionary services and drug courts to decrease the caseloads of prisons where convicts are nonviolent felons. Fewer inmates are behind bars in New York state than at anytime in the last 20 years from 72,649 in 1999 to 50,288 as of Jan. 1, 2018, a 31 percent decline.
The argument that New York state could raise significant tax revenue if recreational marijuana is legalized is significantly outweighed by the adverse physiological and psychological costs it will have on New York state citizens and the debilitating effects on their families. Billions of dollars of revenue are generated from the New York state lottery, but New York state is still one of the highest taxed states in the U.S. Similarly, any tax revenues raised by legalizing recreational marijuana will be squandered, as is the New York state lottery revenue. Tax revenues can be raised by creating jobs, not legalizing a debilitating drug.
In short, the negatives far outweigh the positives for our state, and that is why recreational marijuana should not be legalized in New York state.
Joseph Nesser serves as Monroe County Family Court judge, acting Supreme Court justice and former chairman of Monroe County Family Treatment Court.